On Feb. 4, 2013, five black student panelists spoke about stereotypes during the Student Voices Project in the Oak Room on the Taylorsville Redwood Campus.
The panelist told their stories of what it is like to be a black student on a predominantly white campus and offered suggestions about how to create a more unified campus.
Salt Lake Community College wants to understand the experience of various student demographic groups through the Student Voices Project. The project seeks to provide a public forum where representatives of marginalized student groups can be heard.
“How are we treating you here as faculty, as staff, and as administrators?” Asked Dr. Mildred Sparks, an associate professor in the English department, who moderated the panel. “Are we welcoming you, or do you see the ‘colored’ and ‘white’ signs that I saw growing up? Or is it more subtle? The discrimination for me was in my face all the time. But is it more subtle for you?”
As a young girl growing up in Alabama, Sparks still remembers when her mother, heavy-laden with bags of groceries, had to stand at the back of the bus despite there being empty seats near the front.
Later, while a university student, Sparks participated in peaceful civil rights demonstrations. While she is confident that SLCC students are not experiencing this same sort of segregation, she asked black students if racism manifested itself to them in subtler ways.
Black students make up about 1% of the total student population at SLCC.
Carl Williamson, a black student who desires to graduate with a degree in social work, described the sometimes isolating experience of being outnumbered.
“[As a black student], usually you are the only black student in the class,” says Williamson. “Right there, everyone is looking at you. And the first thing people say is, ‘why is he here?’”
Keith McDonald, a black student interested in English and Psychology, said that he didn’t feel discriminated against per se, but SLCC students sometimes unconsciously reveal their inexperience interacting with black Americans in the way that they behave.
“I don’t think people intentionally do it,” says McDonald. “People do it to fit in. They do it around people they are not used to being around.”
McDonald suggested that the best way to rectify this cultural naivety is to ask genuine questions.
“I think on both sides there needs to be dialogue, without any comedy, without any snide comments,” says McDonald. “When people really want to know something, they need to ask, without the other person getting offended.”
The panel should not be generalized as typical of the experience of every black student on SLCC.
Panelist Glory Stanton, who wants to be a doctor, asserts that her experience as a black woman is unique even from the experience of black men. Near the conclusion of the conference, she reiterated the importance of resisting the urge to generalize.
Stanton conveyed the message that the experiences of these students cannot be projected upon the whole black student population. These isolated stories help SLCC students empathize and strive to reach out and make a better community.
The next Student Voice Project will be held Apr. 10, 2013 in the Oak Room on the Taylorsville Redwood Campus from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. The theme of this event will be Sharing our Students’ Perspectives, and will host a panel of five students from the LGBTIQ community.